Every member of a panel at the Hampton Bays Civic Association’s State of the Bays address echoed the same warning: local waterways are in peril, and they need action now.
On Monday’s panel were bayman Edward Warner Jr., Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister, Stony Brook professor Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch and Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito. None of the speakers sugarcoated what’s happening in the bays: high levels of nitrogen, caused primarily by residential septic systems, are fueling the brown and red tides suppressing sea life in bays across Long Island.
Mr. Warner said that “by the second or third week of July, I’m fishing the bay with nets. I go out there, my nets are empty—you know what that means? No money. You know what that means? No food on the table.”
The fishing is getting so bad, said Mr. Warner, that he and his son, third- and fourth-generation baymen, are considering buying a dragger and going ocean fishing. “It’ll be the first time a Warner’s been in the ocean since my grandfather went out there fishing codfish back in the early 1900s,” he said.
In 2010, the Department of Environmental Conservation designated waterways along the entire south shore, from Shinnecock to Great South Bay, as “impaired.” “We can exchange the adjectives, but that’s polluted water,” said Mr. McAllister.
He recalled seeing “eels coming up to the surface trying to suck for air” at Forge River, a tributary of Moriches Bay that is also on the impaired waters list. Elected officials have their “heads in the sand,” said Mr. McAllister. He criticized U.S. Senator Charles Schumer for supporting a $15 million plan to close the old inlet in Great South Bay after it was opened up by Sandy. Breaches and washover caused by Sandy, which Mr. Warner called “a godsend,” have rejuvenated areas like Patchogue Bay. Such areas are seeing better fishing and visibility due to flushing than in 30 years, Mr. Warner and Ms. Esposito agreed.
The panel also emphasized the need to support what Mr. Warner called “boots-on-the-ground and shells-in-the-bay” programs like the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program run by Dr. Pikitch. They address declines in water quality and shellfish populations with such steps as planting seagrass and shellfish beds in spawner sanctuaries.
“I’m not going to claim we can solve the whole problem this way. What I’m saying is that we can make a dent in the problem, and we can do it now,” Dr. Pikitch said.